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The Mysterious Disappearance of Consciousness

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Phenomenal consciousness is seen as one of the top unsolved problems in science. Nothing we can—or, arguably, even could—observe about the arrangement of atoms constituting the brain allows us to deduce what it feels like to smell an orange, fall in love, or have a belly ache. Remarkably, the intractability of the problem has led some to even claim that consciousness doesn’t exist at all: Daniel Dennett and his followers famously argue that it is an illusion, whereas neuroscientist Michael Graziano proclaims that “consciousness doesn’t happen. It is a mistaken construct.” Really?The denial of phenomenal consciousness is called—depending on its particular formulation—‘eliminativism’ or ‘illusionism.’ Its sheer absurdity has recently been chronicled by Galen Strawson, David Bentley Hart and yours truly, so I won’t repeat that argumentation here. My interest now is different: I want to understand what makes the consciousness of an intelligent human being deny its own existence with a stra...

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